Timely spring dialogue symposium to focus on religion and compassion

Clark University’s long-running Difficult Dialogues initiative announces its spring symposium, “Who Cares? Religion and Compassion,” which begins next week.

“Who Cares? Religion and Compassion" comprises a film series, exhibitions, talks, panels and community conversations that examine how compassion is nurtured, challenged, and how -- and if -- it calls us to action. How is compassion fulfilled and denied in the current practices of religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions?  What are its biological and psychological roots?  To whom do we extend it, nourish it, and why is it so often occluded? 

"You know, there’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us … When you think like this—when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers —it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help."  ~ President Barack Obama

Following is a list of scheduled symposium events, which are all are free and open to the public. For more information about the “Who Cares? Religion and Compassion” symposium, call the Higgins School of Humanities, at 508-793-7479 or visit www.clarku.edu/difficultdialogues.

Launch event: Screening and conversation

The Centrality of Compassion in Human Life and Society” (2010)
7 and 9 p.m., Tuesday, January 25
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

In the fall of 2010, His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke at Stanford University in a series of events on Compassion, Science and Society. In this screened talk on compassion and altruism, which he sees as core to the survival of humanity, he asks in what practical ways we can enhance their presence in such settings as our schools, hospitals and prisons and in society as a whole. He speaks on the centrality of compassion in human life and society from the perspectives of such wide-ranging disciplines as education, social psychology and the neurosciences. (60 minutes)

TED Talk on Compassion (1st in a series)

Establishing the Charter for Compassion
Karen Armstrong
12 p.m., Wednesday, January 26
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

People want to be religious, says scholar Karen Armstrong; we should help make religion a force for harmony.  Armstrong is among the most prominent historians and commentators on religion living today. She has authored 13 books, including the bestseller “A History of God.” Armstrong’s achievements as an independent scholar focusing on the three great monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, have earned her a reputation as a major contributor to interfaith understanding and respect. Her most recent book is “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” (Knopf, 2010).

The TED talks offer insight and inspiration from leading figures on the issues of our time. TED (Technology, Entertainment, & Design) is a small non-profit committed to Ideas Worth Spreading and “the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.” In this lunchtime series, we screen five short talks on compassion (18 minutes or less). The talks will be followed by conversation cafés. Attendees should bring their lunch.

Film Series

Two feature films offer different perspectives on the nature of compassion.  We invite you to these free screenings accompanied by refreshments and followed by Conversation Cafés.

Film screening and conversation

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” (2003)
7 and 10 p.m., Tuesday, February 1
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

With only a single set and a handful of characters, Korean director Kim Ki-Duk creates a wise gem of a movie. The action takes place in five distinct episodes, but sometimes many years separate the seasons. The setting is a floating monastery in a pristine mountain lake, where an elderly monk teaches a boy the lessons of life; when the boy grows to manhood, he inevitably learns a few hard lessons for himself. By the end, you have witnessed the arc of existence--not one person's life, but everyone's. (103 minutes)

Film screening and conversation 

"Earth” (1998)
7 p.m. and 10 p.m., Tuesday, February 8
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

Directed by Deepa Mehta, Earth tells the harrowing story of a diverse group of friends --Parsis, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians -- trying to maintain friendships and love as their city is being torn apart. Set in Lahore in 1947 on the eve of Indian independence from the British and the imminent partition of Pakistan, we witness compassion and pluralism in a time of extremism and brutality. (110 minutes)

TED Talk on Compassion (2nd in a series)

"The Profound Journey of Compassion
Swami Dayananda Saraswati
12 p.m., Wednesday, February 9
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

Swami Saraswati unravels the parallel paths of personal development and attaining true compassion.

TED Talk on Compassion (3rd in a series)

Expanding Your Circle of Compassion”
Robert Thurman
12 p.m., Wednesday, February 23
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

It’s hard to always show compassion -- even to the people we love, but Tibetan Buddhism scholar Robert Thurman (Columbia) asks that we develop compassion for our enemies.

Exhibition and conversation with the artist  

Portraits of the Human Heart
Drawings by Deanna Leamon
Thursday, February 24  (The exhibition will run through April 30.)
Dana Commons, second floor lounge
Conversation with the artist - 4 p.m.
Reception and exhibition opening - 5 p.m.

Inspired by her study of human anatomy, Deanna Leamon creates large figurative mixed-media drawings that explore the relationships between physicality, metaphor, and humanity in the modern world. “Our body is that junction where all that is good or evil, lovely or ugly, can be focused, felt and acted on. Working with the human heart, I aim to display our humanity in our decaying biology.” Leamon is a figurative artist now working in a studio space in the Sprinkler Factory in Worcester. She was a professor in the Department of Art at University of South Carolina for sixteen years. Her work has been exhibited widely in both solo and groups shows, including at George Mason University, University of Wisconsin, College of Charleston and many more.

Illustrated talk   

The Evolution of Compassion: A View from Primates and Prehistory
Barbara J. King
4:30 p.m., Monday, February 28
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

From an evolutionary perspective, what are the deepest roots of human compassion? Can a focus on the prehistory of the human religious impulse help us understand patterns in, and limits of, the expression of compassion in the world today? Drawing on the evidence from primatology, biological anthropology, archaeology, and psychology, Barbara J. King considers these questions in an illustrated talk that ranges from empathetic chimpanzees in West Africa to ancient burial practices in Europe.  A biological anthropologist who has studied nonhuman primates in the wild and captivity, King is Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. Her most recent books are “Being with Animals” (2010), “Evolving God” (2007), and “The Dynamic Dance” (2004). See http://www.barbarajking.com for more information and for her Friday Animal Blog.  King’s books will be available at the event.  A reception will follow.


What’s faith got to do with it? Social Change and Interfaith Action at Clark
Tanya D’Lima ’11
7 p.m., Wednesday, March 2
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

Clark students from a number of faith traditions have joined together this year in a group called Interfaith Action for a major social action project. They join with thousands of students throughout the country in this effort, coordinated through the Inter Faith Youth Corps (IFYC) Better Together campaign. IFYC and Difficult Dialogues Fellow Tanya D’Lima ’11 will facilitate this conversation about the project, and the possibilities and challenges of social change in interfaith efforts.

TED Talk on Compassion (4th in a series)
The Evolution of Compassion
Robert Wright
12 p.m., Wednesday, March 16
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

Author Robert Wright uses evolutionary biology and game theory to explain why we appreciate the Golden Rule ("Do unto others..."), why we sometimes ignore it and why there’s hope that, in the near future, we might all have the compassion to follow it.


The First American Bible/The Worst American War: How Religious Compassion Made and Destroyed Our Best Beginnings”
Robert Strong
4:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 16
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

As schoolchildren we were taught that America’s earliest New England colonists were driven to this coast in search of “freedom of religion.”  However, we now see the disconnect between the Puritans’ earnest desire to save all mankind and their particular methods for spreading the freedom of their own religion.  Using America’s first printed bible (1663, a collaborative translation into the native Algonquian) and King Philip’s War as his backdrop, poet Robert Strong asks how the Puritans might have kept the more humane impulses of their religious values from shattering under the intensity of worldly pressures. And how might we today? Strong is the author of the poetry collection Puritan Spectacle (Elixir Press) and editor of Joyful Noise: An Anthology of American Spiritual Poetry (Autumn House Press).  He has conducted poetic research as a Mellon fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society and a Hearst fellow at the American Antiquarian Society.  Currently the editor of the Poetic Research column at Commonplace.org, he is working on a new manuscript, Bright Advent, a finalist for the Dorset prize for poetry from Tupelo Press and the Graywolf Press nonfiction prize.  He teaches at Bates College in Maine.


What Do We Know? Student Voices on Religion
7 p.m., Friday, March 25
Razzo Hall, Traina Center for the Arts, 92 Downing St.

Based on interviews by Clark students and with Clark students, this multi-media performance explores the ways in which we understand (and don’t understand) the beliefs of our neighbors and, sometimes, ourselves.  Weaving together voices from throughout the Clark community, this “spoken word chorus” explores what is inspiring, alienating, funny, and compelling about religious difference.

TED Talk on Compassion (5th in a series)

On Compassion
Daniel Goleman
12 p.m., Wednesday, March 30
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence,” asks why we aren't more compassionate more of the time.


African American Intellectual Culture Series: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist
Jan Willis
7 p.m., Wednesday, March 30
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

Join with Professor Jan Willis for an evening's conversation about growing up in the Jim Crow South, the Birmingham Civil Rights campaign and journeying East to Nepal and the Buddhism of Tibet. Willis is professor of religion at Wesleyan University. One of the earliest American scholar-practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, Willis has published numerous essays and articles on Buddhist meditation, hagiography, women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and race. Her latest book is “Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey” (2001). This event is co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost. 


A Land Twice Promised
Noa Baum
7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 31
Little Center, Charlotte St., Worcester

Israeli storyteller Noa Baum began a heartfelt dialogue with a Palestinian woman while living in the United States. She weaves together their memories, and their mothers' stories, to create a moving testimony that illuminates the complex and contradictory history and emotions surrounding Jerusalem, for Israelis and Palestinians alike. She takes us behind the rhetoric and headlines to hear the true stories of four women, 2 Israelis and 2 Palestinians. In the process, we experience the most precious ingredient for the resolution of any major conflict: mutual compassion. This event is co-sponsored by Women’s and Gender Studies and the Department of Political Science.


Creating New Space for Compassion in a Conservative Religious Tradition
Joanna Brooks
7 p.m., Thursday, April 7
Dana Commons, second floor lounge

Mormonism is among the most conservative religious traditions in America. In recent years, the LDS Church has also emerged as a major force in the political opposition to same-sex marriage.  Even as the fight against same-sex marriage has intensified, for LGBT Mormons and their allies, the internet has been a game-changer, creating new spaces of understanding, support, and compassion within a religious tradition that has at times been hard on its liberal members. Joanna Brooks will explore the new opportunities for compassion created by progressive LDS activists and bloggers. Brooks is associate professor and interim chair of the department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. Brooks is a scholar of American literature, religion, and culture. Her first book “American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures” (Oxford University Press, 2003) was awarded the Modern Language Association William Sanders Scarborough Prize. She is a blogger for Religion Dispatches (religiondispatches.org), a progressive on-line religion magazine.

Clark’s Difficult Dialogues program is part of the National Difficult Dialogues Initiative to create a culture of dialogue on college campuses. In 2006, Clark was one of twenty-seven independent programs nationwide, selected from over 700 colleges and universities to have their original dialogue initiative program funded by the Ford Foundation. 

Since its founding in 1887, Clark University in Worcester, Mass., has a history of challenging convention. As an innovative liberal arts college and research university, Clark’s world-class faculty lead a community of creative thinkers and passionate doers and offer a range of expertise, particularly in the areas of psychology, geography, urban education, Holocaust and genocide studies, environmental studies, and international development and social change. Clark’s students, faculty and alumni embody the Clark motto: Challenge convention. Change our world. www.clarku.edu

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